Lakota People’s Law Project and Nathan Phillips

There have been many, often conflicting, stories about the confrontation between Nathan Phillips and High School students, many wearing MAGA caps.

This morning I received an email message from Daniel Nelson, Director of the Lakota People’s Law Project, telling their story of helping Nathan Phillips.

In recent days the Lakota People’s Law Project helped shape history. You might not know me. I’m Daniel Nelson, the director of the Lakota People’s Law Project. I have worked closely with my colleagues Chase Iron Eyes, Madonna Thunder Hawk, and Phyllis Young for the past eight years, spending months at a stretch at Standing Rock and other tribal nations. This work has been of transcendent importance to me, and I’m deeply honored to do it. I must now share some important news with you about our organization’s work over the past two weeks and our plans for the coming year. I’ll summarize: Chase and I were with Nathan Phillips most hours of every day last week, helping him bring his message of a just peace into every household in America.

We traveled to D.C. on Wednesday January 16th, and Chase, Phyllis, and I participated fully in the Indigenous People’s March on Friday. Chase and Phyllis spoke during the rally and we met with Congresswoman Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native women elected to Congress. The march was a success, and we were feeling grateful to have played a role—but then, as you know, something alarming and extraordinary happened: a serious act of racism at the Lincoln Memorial on Martin Luther King Day weekend.

As I mentioned, Chase knew Nathan. He had actually asked someone to take this photo (below) immediately before the incident at the Lincoln Memorial. And during the media frenzy that followed our release, it didn’t take long for Chase and me to find ourselves in the same room with Nathan—we encountered one another at CNN’s studio, where both Nathan and Chase were doing interviews. We had a brief exchange and then Nathan slipped away.

Daniel Nelson, Director, Lakota People’s Law Project
Chase Iron Eyes and Nathan Phillips at Indigenous People’s March 2019

Nathan’s courage will be remembered forever. He stepped into the middle of a profane, racially charged exchange that symbolized the dark side of race relations in our country: it was the MAGA hat-wearing sons of southern, white plutocrats against a small group of strident, abysmally missguided African Americans, the Black Hebrew Israelites (if you need a comprehensive overview of the entire incident, ABC Nightline did a good one). Remarkably, a Native American, whose ancestors faced genocide at the hands of European immigrants to America, stepped into danger with a drum and ceremonial song to deliver peace. When confronted by both hostile parties, he kept his rhythm; he stayed until his work was done that day. He made good on the memory of Martin Luther King, whose “I Have a Dream” Speech was uttered at that same location 56 years ago.

Daniel Nelson, Director, Lakota People’s Law Project

In this video Nathan Phillips speaks of historic injustices against Indigenous people in the United States, including taking Native children from their families to try to assimilate them into white settler colonialist culture. And speaks of the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women. But he also speaks of his hope for a better future.

Nathan Phillips on racism

Indigenous people don’t believe we have time to be squabbling and bickering over race, religion. But he believes things are only getting worse for Indigenous people. There are a lot of people who are just realizing that if we don’t do something now, its going to be too late. I guess what I say to a lot of people: peace and love. Put that in your heart and love for all humans.

Nathan Phillips

Now Nathan’s work continues, and the Lakota People’s Law Project stands ready to help him in any way we can. We are advising him to stay on the side of Peace with Justice. Here is the best rendition of Nathan’s vision for the world that I have seen to date, a moving video made by Al Jazeera. Please watch it. The culture of violence and inequality that Trump has fostered in America must be confronted aggressively but without malice. This is the pathway to healing. We will look to King, to Gandhi, and now to Phillips for modeling, despite Phillips being imperfect, as we all are. We will dig deeply into ourselves and find the resources to preserve and strengthen the first modern democracy in the world, while never forgetting to make it increasingly just. Peace without justice is just tinder waiting to be lit, avoidable suffering covered over by disguises. We do not want that kind of peace.

Daniel Nelson, Director, Lakota People’s Law Project
Indigenous People’s Rally 2019
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